Over the past 28 years, I’ve met with hundreds of brands, and the above statements seem to be the norm. Typically, I was always brought in to position the brand to make its offering appeal to consumers and become a host of the brand’s other target audiences. I was never really encouraged to question the business strategies, the management team’s decisions or the lack of competitive advantage of the offering. I was an “ad guy.” And ad guys make pretty pictures.
Then 2008 happened. Brands were brought to their knees from every possible perspective. The entire foundation of what they thought they knew was crumbling around them, as were their sales, budgets, physical teams and confidence in how to stop the bleeding. All of a sudden, they needed “thinkers” — anyone who could shed some light on the new normal. They were all looking for creative problem solvers with a balance of understanding people and an eye on profitability. And just like that, I was asked to look under the hood of companies I had only ever evaluated on the surface.
Here’s what I found.
There were 9 core reasons brands were failing to reach their potential:
- Honest misunderstanding of strategic initiatives
- Lack of ownership
- Lack of vision & expertise among the ranks
- Thinking in silos
- Inability to prioritize initiatives
- Too few built-in accountability measures
- A team that is spread too thin
- Underfunding and scope creep
- Negative Politics
1. Honest misunderstanding of strategic initiatives
One of the first things we do when working with a new (or existing) client is conduct one-on-one interviews with senior leadership and key stakeholders. Inevitably, we discover there is rarely an agreed upon single direction for the brand. Rather, we find there are typically 3–4 directions believed to be the “one.” You have to get everyone (senior leadership and management) on the same page right out of the gate, and then verify they stay there via periodic team communication opportunities.
2. Lack of ownership
Telling someone what to do versus them “buying in” is a night and day difference when it comes to achieving your goals. Conversation and a simple, honest Q&A is the surest way to make this happen. If someone has trouble with being questioned, tell them in the nicest way possible to MOVE PAST IT. Beyond that, remind yourself that you are paying these folks to not only execute, but to think. They will do a much better job of thinking if you allow them to be open and honest about what they know and don’t know.
3. Lack of vision & expertise among the ranks
Obviously, you can’t be available for every decision that needs made. So, you have to sub-plant individuals who can see the big picture to make the right micro decisions in critical roles. Many times, the person with vision has the expertise, too — but not always. Think “pairing” to get a complete skill set. For example, the healthcare industry uses dyads to accomplish this. They pair an administrator with a healthcare provider to evaluate new technologies. Having the right people in the right roles is crucial.
4. Thinking in silos
Sometimes, it’s productive and necessary for individual teams to isolate themselves and focus on the need at hand. Unfortunately, if it becomes the norm, it will lead to total derailment of reaching the intended goals. Educating silo stakeholders to constantly reflect on the impact of other silos is essential. The more they understand the challenges of their counterparts, the more likely the initiative will stay on course.
5. Inability to prioritize initiatives
Too often, people work on what they know how to do and avoid what they should be doing. In their minds, they put in a good day and earned their paycheck. In reality, they just set the initiative back. At the beginning of the initiative, have every team member determine the major milestones that must be achieved (in specific order) to guarantee they will support their part of the overall effort. It is your and the key stakeholders’ jobs to approve these before spending even a second on execution.
6. No built-in accountability measures
It’s frustrating to have to devise an accountability program for 10% of the team. But the reality is, we all operate a little better when we know someone is watching. It can actually lead to more pride in our work and a more robust sense of “team.” So, set up a fair process to consistently monitor accountability and report back on how the team is doing. The closer the team gets to its deadline, the more often you should provide feedback. Accountability adds positive momentum if handled properly and enables you to recognize superstars you may not have otherwise known about.
7. A team or decision-maker that is spread too thin
Many times, leadership comes to trust one or two individuals so much that they create a bottleneck of indecision for the other team members. But, spreading the decision-making among a few more people isn’t always possible. What we’ve seen work well in those cases is to bring in a hyper-organized assistant for the key decision-makers who will help them stay efficient and limit any unnecessary distractions (without breaking the bank).
8. Underfunding and scope creep
I’m not just talking about not budgeting enough money to accomplish your intended goals. I’m talking about senior leadership and the Board of Directors losing their commitment to an initiative. It could be for a variety of reasons, but many times it’s because they become frustrated with the lack of progress for a given time period. One major thing that seems to lead to missing deadlines is scope creep — adding demands to the initiative. From my experience, scope creep happens because senior-level folks engage too late in the process. There are a couple of ways to handle this issue. One way is to simply have a final sign-off on the plan and then stick with that plan unless there are extenuating circumstances that would make proceeding a ridiculous endeavor. The other is to document valid concerns and place them in subsequent phases.
9. Negative politics
We all know they exist. We also all know they are the death of profitability, accountability, culture and producing great work. Only senior leadership can negate the power of negative politics. These people have the obligation to clear the path for team talent to do what is needed to grow the company without worrying about repercussions from negative politics. This will enable you to have an enjoyable day and build a brand that will make recruiting much easier. Good people lead to good communication, which leads to greater profitability — and the cycle continues.
The common thread in all of this is having great people and creating an environment of open, honest communication where the end goal is king. None of us are perfect, and many of us can’t seem to keep ourselves motivated nor do we always make good decisions or have the right answer. This is a reality in every business everywhere. So, what can you do about it? OWN IT. Put a structure and culture in place that allows for the best communication possible. You may not always like what you hear, but you’ll know what you are dealing with and have time to take the steps to remedy every decision before it derails your efforts.
Recognize some things that may be tying up the vision for your brand? We can help. For a more in-depth discussion, contact Jerry Youngblutt. firstname.lastname@example.org, 260-422-4499.